Maryland men’s basketball Coach Mark Turgeon tried his best to stay upbeat Wednesday as he addressed the legion of problems that have led to the Terrapins’ worst start in nearly 30 years.
“I know everybody thinks the world’s coming to an end if you’re a Terps basketball fan,” he said. “But I’m really positive about the future and what lies ahead for us.”
That Turgeon, who brushes aside the sports section in his morning newspaper and avoids reading Internet stories about his team, sensed such bubbling frustration surrounding the program speaks volumes. Entering the first conference game of its final ACC season Thursday night at Boston College, Maryland has lost four of its first nine games for the first time since 1986-87, an off-putting start for a team that had NCAA tournament expectations entering the season.
“Every game you want to turn the page,” forward Jon Graham said. “You don’t want to look back on things you did wrong or how bad the game was for us or the end result. You want to move on from game to game and get better in practice.”
Forgetting about another slow start and maintaining momentum generated by a strong second half Sunday against George Washington would be a fine place to begin against the Eagles (3-6), who have similarly struggled to fit a series of talented pieces into one coherent puzzle. In the loss to the Colonials, lethargic defense and slap-dash ball control left Maryland with a 14-point deficit. The Terps staged a furious rally, catalyzed by a full-court press that seemed to rattle GW, but came up short when guard Maurice Creek hit the winning jumper with 0.6 seconds left.
Turgeon invoked one of his coaching mentors to explain how Maryland could use the loss — its second since its three wins at the Paradise Jam tournament — as a teaching tool.
At Kansas, Turgeon played for Larry Brown, who often told his players, “It’s easy to come back, but it’s hard to come back and win.”
“I loved our energy,” Turgeon said. “I thought we were in great shape. We had guys play a lot of minutes and play with tremendous energy down the stretch there. It’s a good feeling. We didn’t catch a break in that game. If we had caught one break, we might have come out on top. But we didn’t. You’ve got to create your own breaks. It was definitely a positive. We have to start games better. We have to defend better.”
Defense would indeed be a start. Turgeon appears prepared to hand the point guard reins to freshman Roddy Peters, but defensive struggles prevented Peters from assuming the starting job even earlier, and team-wide issues on that end have forced the Terrapins to dig themselves out of early deficits. Both Ohio State, which scored a 16-point win over Maryland on Dec. 4, and George Washington averaged more than one point per possession and sprinted to double-digit leads by halftime.
In Boston College, which recently lost to Southern California and former Maryland point guard Pe’Shon Howard, the Terps will receive another defensive challenge and can ill-afford the slow help-side rotations that allowed Creek to penetrate the paint and score 25 points. The Eagles rank 29th nationally in offensive efficiency, according to analyst Ken Pomeroy, and are second nationally in free throw percentage.
After the road trip north, Maryland returns home to finish its nonconference schedule against Florida Atlantic, Boston University, Tulsa and North Carolina Central. The Terps haven’t played this many November and December games away from College Park since the 1960s, but Turgeon and the Terrapins aren’t about to start using that as an excuse.
“I think it’s effort,” Turgeon said. “Effort and concentration. That’s really what it comes down to. . . . They know what to do. They’ve been taught, especially the veteran guys. They know what to do.”